Members of the lower chamber of parliament Tuesday rejected an article in the draft law regulating labour that, if passed as is, would allow children between 13 and 16 to join the labour force.
Before the article was put to a vote, more than 13 MPs took the stand and one after the other voiced their reasons as to why the article needs to be scrapped.
The common argument was that it was contradictory to the country’s goal of having children go to school, stay in school and excel at their studies without distraction.
According Article 5 of the proposed draft law, “the minimum age for admission to employment is sixteen (16) years. However, a child aged between thirteen (13) and fifteen (15) years is allowed to perform only light works,” the article reads.
Presenting a report of the review, the Social Affairs Commission President, MP Amiel Ngabo Semahundo told MPs that the article did not seek to hamper a child’s right to go to school but compliment what he or she was studying by keeping them busy during holidays.
“We agree that a child who is 16 and below should be in school but there are circumstances where it’s necessary for him or her to do something light during holidays to supplement their cost for books, uniform etc,” he explained.
MP Emmanuel Mudidi told fellow legislators that as a country, Rwanda cannot afford to put children younger than 16 in the labour force when there are more and better education alternatives to pick from.
“At the time this law came into existence, we did not have all these education programmes. We didn’t for instance have the compulsory basic 12-year education programme which has allowed children to study free beyond the primary level. What we need to focus on is not to put children to work but to see them through school,” he said.
MP Specioza Mukandutiye said that the two articles pertaining to circumstances under which a child between 13 and 16 can work were not clear and left loopholes that can potentially be exploited by employers.
“What do they mean when they say that these children will do light work? How you interpret that is different from how another person may. To me, it could mean sweeping around, but to someone else it could mean working in a stone quarry. We need to be careful about this,” she said.
MP Ignatienne Nyirarukundo expressed her concern over exposing children to dangers like abuse wondering what the point of including them in the labor force would benefit the country.
“Children should be in school. I was already worried that we allowed 16-year-olds to work but we are now adding children as young as 13? Why? Who is going to protect them when they are at those places,” she wondered.